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Great Lakes Article:

Scientist finds 'dead zone above Mona Lake
Dave LeMieux
Muskegon Chronicle
Posted 10/11/2002

The cattails growing in a wetland area along a stretch of a Mona Lake tributary stream disguise the fact the area is a virtual "dead zone" for small aquatic animals, according to Grand Valley State biologist Don Uzarski.

"At first glance, it's the worst wetland I've studied in the state," said Uzarski, about a section of Little Black Creek near Mona View Cemetery.

The contamination appears to be spreading downstream toward Mona Lake, scientists said.

Uzarski said the most likely cause of the damage are heavy metals, including cadmium, from the Peerless Plating U.S. Environmental Superfund cleanup site just over a mile upstream.

Uzarski presented preliminary results of recent research at Tuesday's meeting of the Mona Lake Watershed Project. The Community Foundation for Muskegon County project is funded by a $100,000 grant from the C.S. Mott Foundation.

A few area residents and environmental activists joined a group of about 30 local government officials for the meeting at Grand Valley State's Annis Water Resources Institute in downtown Muskegon.

Uzarski and other Grand Valley State scientists discussed early results of studies on pollution levels and plant and animal populations in the 48,000-acre Mona Lake watershed.

The watershed stretches from Lake Michigan into southwestern Newaygo County and encompasses Little Black Creek, Black Creek and Mona Lake.

Wetlands like the one along Little Black Creek near the cemetery should harbor a wide range of tiny aquatic animals in the stream, muck and cattails, Uzarski says.

However, there appear to be only a few bloodworms where there should be countless freshwater shrimp, dragonfly larvae, blackfly larvae and sow bugs, said Uzarski.

Uzarski has studied more than 100 wetlands across the state, from those which are relatively pristine to those badly contaminated.

"Unfortunately, I think I've found the most extremely impacted community (in Little Black Creek)," Uzarski said.

Uzarski's research team is part of an international study which is developing methods to determine the degree and causes of wetland damage.

Peerless Plating at 2554 Getty is the source of some of the worst cadmium contamination ever measured in the state, according to Grand Valley's Rick Rediske, a senior scientist specializing in environmental chemistry.

The only solution may be to remove the contaminated sediment, Rediske said.

Cadmium builds up in plants and animals and can cause lung damage, liver disease and brain or nerve damage. Tests have shown it is likely to cause cancer in people.

A large number of other heavy metals and toxic chemicals have been discovered in Little Black Creek as well. The six-mile long stream originates near Mill Iron Road in Muskegon Township. It flows under U.S. 31 near Mercy General Health Partners hospital and flows through Muskegon Heights before emptying into Mona Lake opposite the Muskegon County Airport.

There are other problems facing the watershed as well.

Oil is still leaking from the abandoned Marathon Oil Refinery near the headwaters of Little Black Creek.

Sandy sediments are choking Black Creek, which also has a pair of Superfund sites -- Thermo-Chem Inc. and Lakeway Bofors Nobel Inc. -- on its banks.

Mona Lake is oxygen-poor and contains high levels of nutrients like phosphorus that can lead to runaway algae blooms. A likely source of the nutrients is runoff from fertilized lawns.

Sewage spills from a Muskegon County Wastewater System lift station on Little Black Creek near the Peerless Site have also contributed to persistently high fecal coliform levels in Mona Lake.

© 2002 Muskegon Chronicle.

This information is posted for nonprofit educational purposes, in accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1,Sec. 107 copyright laws.

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